My first non-fiction writing assignment required an interview. I’d read plenty of interviews, but never conducted one. Fortunately for me I’d recently attended a writing conference where I happened to sit in on a class about interviews. Talk about serendipitous! There’s more to an interview than just sitting down and talking with someone. Here are a few things I’ve learned to help make the most of your interview time.
1. Have your questions ready. The first time I contact someone I’m trying to schedule a meeting, but sometimes that turns into an instant interview. When someone says, “I have a few minutes now,” you want to be prepared. Make sure you write your questions before first contact.
2. I type faster than I write. I scribbled notes at my first interview. It didn’t take long before I bought a voice recorder, but when you record a 30 minute interview you eventually have to spend another 30 minutes transcribing that interview. I’ve found the most accurate, efficient way for me to conduct an interview is to bring my computer or word processor (yes, I have one). Figure out which method works best for you, but always have a back-up.
3. Never stop taking notes. Interviews make people tense. You may have all the right questions, but people under pressure forget things and usually censor their speech. Tell your interviewee after you’ve asked the last question, but don’t stop writing! Once the interview is over people relax – I usually get my best quotes “after” the interview.
4. Anything else? My last question is always the same – is there anything else you’d like to tell me about this? I may not have asked the right questions. Something may have changed since I first found out about the topic. There may be an element that I never noticed. By asking this open ended question I give the interviewee the freedom to say whatever they want (and if it’s off topic, I don’t have to use it in my story).
Interviews don’t always go smoothly, but if you apply these techniques it should help you make the most of your time.